Generations Butt Heads For Tex In Iconic Purtell Panther Pit (As Grassroots as Urine On Iron)
Dave ‘Tex’ Murphy Memorial Game; Normanby Hounds vs. Normanby Old Boys; Putrell Park; 1/2/2014
“Rugby league…is a game of bashing the life out of your opponent until he is weak enough for you to pass. And so I ask; can that really be done in a friendly way?”
Report by Nicholas Turner
Purtell Park is surely one of Brisbane’s most spectacular grassroots sanctums. It feels reverent and secluded, waiting at the dead end of an unassuming route into the quiet backside of the Bardon Hills. The earth ascends amphitheatrically from the southern dead-ball line and the eastern touch; the sudden hills are crowded at the base by loping, interwoven trees, then become gradually dry, brown and balding toward their dramatic crests. There’s nothing but sky to contemplate beyond this natural stamp in the earth, and the sun seems so intent to light the field that I could almost swear the goalposts cast no shadow.
I’m also fairly confident that the place would throw back an echo if you came here on your lonesome and yodelled.
Sadly, it’s all but a spiritual ground these days, discharged from formal duty after the recent disbandment of the historic Wests Panthers rugby league club just two years shy of its centenary. Where in the past as many as eighteen thousand punters have swarmed the sidelines for top grade grand finals, today it’s probably less than two hundred (players and coaches included) as the Normanby Hounds host a memorial fixture for a fallen clubman, Dave ‘Tex’ Murphy. And that’s just fine; family and friends, club die-hards and a couple of grassroots sports reporters have come out here to see some off-season league for a good cause. Money raised from today’s game and a follow-up dinner will go to helping Tex’s 16 year old son through his schooling.
The Hounds’ competition team, from the Open Northside 2 division, will today be taking on the Normanby Old Boys (The N.O.B.s), a tight-knit collective of players of yore. In other words, the N.O.B.s (also calling themselves ‘The International XIII’) are de-commissioned clubmen, and while some are still looking pretty fit, others look flat-out wrong on the park; I note the ominous heavy-breathing from a large portion of the squad before the game has even begun. Plus, as a matter of honour, Tex’s son, the one for whose benefit today’s game is being played, has also strapped up for the International XIII. And while he’s not the wispiest sixteen year old I’ve ever seen, he’s certainly at that end of the scale.
All of which is not such a big deal if you fail to recognise that their opposition is a fully-competitive, second grade side that won the grand final last year with ease. I personally saw them mutilate a not-too-bad Sandgate Brighton Gaters team by 44-0.
So the first question I have when I see this surely lopsided affair get underway is fairly obvious and also human; is someone going to get hurt here? And furthermore, if it’s Tex’s kid that gets chopped in two, is that going to put a serious dampener on the benevolent spirit of things? Rugby league, I remind you, is the ball-sport equivalent of boxing; it is a game of bashing the life out of your opponent until he is weak enough for you to pass. And so I ask; can that really be done in a friendly way?
In the early stages of the game, physicality is not really the defining thing; the Hounds are simply more organised. Soon enough they’ve scored down the eastern boundary with an overlap that’s a good four men in number. And then they score again. The portly forty- fifty- and sixty-somethings of the International XIII have a good system of self-preservation in place – they are substituting themselves in and out of the game after sometimes just a single play in which they are not even involved; it looks like a competition to see who can get the most game time without actually playing.
Incidentally, having taken refuge from the sun in the enormous players’ shelter along the sideline, your reporter soon learns that the occasional pattering on the corrugated iron structure is not the breaking of rain; excited and/or nervous players find privacy enough to relieve themselves about a foot from my ear. Ah, the familiar charms of local sport.
The game is wisely broken into quarters, and during the breaks the International XIII’s skipper keeps spirits up – he earnestly believes the defence is weakening, and he might just be right. The International XIII lacks nothing where size is concerned (the way they carry their size is probably more to the point, however) and they’re making good yards when they punch at the line. Front-on defence has been solid too. A few players also make the point that the referee (who I assume is a clubman too) ‘wouldn’t dare’ penalise the International XIII for grubby or cynical play, and everyone seems to agree that it might be worth pushing the boundaries of legal play to neutralise the fitness advantages of the opposition.
Turns out they’re right about that too. The veterans don’t get penalised all afternoon.
In the second phase of the game the International XIII find a new way over the line; they put the ball to the boot and go to the sky. Twice they score tries this way, swinging play from east to west, the ball dropping perfectly for attacking players in the in-goal.
The afternoon goes on like this; the Hounds score occasionally through the middle, busting the line as the defence wearies. They sometimes like to ‘woof’ when they score. The International XIII snatch one back here or there, through an overlap or in the air. But the real on-field business of the afternoon, as it turns out, is a bit of score-settling between old bulls and young bulls. Much hyped intergenerational grudge-matches come to the fore and a handful of disturbing hits thunder around the park (which I now know echoes). Shoulder-charges, illegal in the modern game, are here given a kind of amnesty. But somehow, even after being the subject of certified double-whipped creamings, players seem to get up smiling, dusting off the grass and swatting away the circling tweeties.
It remains a given that the Hounds will win, and no one seems to be keeping score anyway. It goes without saying that this game’s true significance dwarfs the possible relevance of any scoreboard. In answer to my question, the players do manage to look after each other by following a law of fair square-offs that is pretty natural when you think about it. Basically, you don’t hit a guy unless he’s up to it.
And thanks to that, Tex’s kid survives the afternoon long enough to benefit from its proceeds.
MDB Score: N/A
MDB Service Atmosphere: N/A
MDB Cost: N/A
Game Score: (Estimate – no official record seems to have been made) Normanby Hounds, 37, def N.O.Bs, A.K.A. International XIII, 22.
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